John Bowlby

John Bowlby

John Mostyn Bowlby, the fourth child and second son in the family of three daughters and three sons of Major-General Sir Anthony Alfred Bowlby and his wife, Maria Bridget Mostyn, was born in London on 26th February 1907. His father was royal surgeon to Edward VII and George V and in 1920 became President of the Royal College of Surgeons. (1)

Lady Maria Bowlby had a conservative approach to child-rearing. She followed the teachings of Frederic Truby King who tried to apply scientific principles to the rearing of children. "The key to the Truby King method was to feed babies by the clock every four hours and preferably never at night - stoically ignoring demands for sustenance in between. He recommended placing babies in their own rooms immediately and leaving them in the garden for long periods to toughen them up. He also imposed a 10-minute daily cap on cuddles." (2)

Hilary Stace has pointed out that Truby King's views were very popular with the upper-classes as it was very close to what they were already doing and reflected their fears about the future of their culture. Stace wrote: "The destiny of the race is in the hands of the mothers". He believed the body was a closed system with a limited amount of energy. The education of girls, in anything other than domestic skills, used up their energy and could make them unable to breed or breastfeed. He believed mental degeneration was caused by poor mothering. "If only women could be taught the science of mothering the racial decline of the Empire could be arrested. Instead they would breed fit soldiers for the Empire." (3)

John Bowlby: Childhood & Education

Lady Maria Bowlby boasted that she never worried about her children and would visit the nursery to receive a report from the senior nanny. The family also employed two nursemaids, one nanny took care of the new born babies and the other nursemaid took care of the rest of the children. (4)

John Bowlby's nursemaid was called Minnie who had day-to-day responsibility for him. "The children rarely saw their father except on Sundays and holidays and only saw their mother for one hour each day between 5 and 6 p.m., and even then, the children went to see her all together so there wasn't exactly individual quality time." John "grew to love Minnie" and became "his surrogate primary attachment figure in preference to his own mother, but when he was four years old, Minnie left the family." (5)

In 1914, when Bowlby was seven, he was sent to boarding school. He later claimed his parents had taken the first step in "the time-honoured barbarism required to produce English gentlemen". He remembers being beaten for defining a "cape" in a geography lesson as a "cloak" rather than a "promontory". (6)

Child Psychologist

At the end of the First World War Bowlby was sent to Dartmouth College. He then read medicine at Trinity College, gaining first-class honours in part one of the natural sciences tripos (1927) and a second class in part two of the moral sciences tripos (1932). He went on to qualify in medicine at University College Hospital. Upon qualification, he began to specialize in psychiatry by becoming a clinical assistant at the Maudsley Hospital. (7)

Bowlby also spent time teaching at a progressive school for maladjusted children. He became interested in one of the boys who had been thrown out of a public school for repeated stealing. "Those in charge attributed his condition to his never having been cared for during his early years by any one motherly person, a result of his illegitimate birth. Thus I was alerted to a possible connection between prolonged deprivation and the development of a personality apparently incapable of making affectional bonds and, because immune to praise and blame, prone to repeated delinquencies." (8)

While in medical school, at the age of 22, he went into psychoanalysis with Joan Riviere. Bowlby qualified as an analyst in 1937 and immediately started training in child analysis with Melanie Klein as his supervisor. Bowlby associated himself with a group of British psychiatrists who, while influenced by Sigmund Freud and sympathetic to the analytic cause, also maintained some distance from it. He was deeply influenced by the ideas of Ian Dishart Suttie, who proposed a primary bond between mother and child, unrelated to infantile sexuality. (9)

According to Suttie: (i) The human infant starts out in a state of non-sexual union with the mother. That is the paradigm of love. (ii) The great challenge of psychic development is separation from the mother. The trauma of badly negotiated separation from the love-object gives rise to hate. (iii) The main task of early childhood is coming to terms with independence. (iv) Coming to terms with genital sexuality is not a task of early childhood and the notion of sexual rivalry with the father is a fiction, a construction put on the jealousy of the child confronted with another person who makes claims upon the mother. (v) The great range of human activities including religion, science and culture can be seen as autonomous activities and not derivatives or sublimations of the sexual impulse. (10)

Suttie's anthropological interests as well as his experience had led him to believe that his mother rather than the father was of primary importance in the early years. "He believed that all later successful social relationships are both a result of and a compensation for that early secure period of mother/infant pleasure. Suttie's concept of infantile love therefore seems to be wholly benign, and in favourable circumstances capable of straightforward growth into mature relationships." This was very different from Freud's view who believed that the development of mature human love demanded a gradual and difficult reconciliation between the opposing forces of "affection" and "sensuality". (11)

Ian Dishart Suttie's book, Origins of Love and Hate, which was at the publishers when he died from a perforated duodenal ulcer in 1935. John Bowlby was greatly influenced by Suttie's ideas and when it was republished fifty-three years later, he pointed out in the intruction, that the book was "a robust and lucid statement of a paradigm that now leads the way... his ideas never died... They smouldered on, at length to burst into flame... The Origins of Love and Hate stand out as a milestone." (12)

Bowlby shared a house with Evan Durbin, an economist who was active in the Labour Party. In 1938 Bowlby joined forces with Durbin to write Personal Aggressiveness and War. The book surveys the literature on aggression in higher mammals drawing parallels with human behaviour. They argued that "Take the child away from the fire, deny it a second piece of cake, but avoid being angry or hurt or disapproving if a scream of rage or a kick on the shins is the immediate consequence of thwarting a child's will to happiness. To permit children to express their feelings of aggression, whilst preventing acts of irremediable destruction is, we suggest, one of the greatest gifts that parents can give to their children." (13)

John Bowlby married Ursula Longstaff, the intelligent and beautiful daughter of a surgeon, daughter of Tom Longstaff, mountain explorer and President of the Alpine Club, on 16th April 1938. Ursula was ten years younger than her husband and over the next few years they had two daughters and two sons. (14) "John, a slightly remote father, followed his own father's tradition of hard work and long holidays". Apparently, at the age of seven, his eldest son asked: "Is Daddy a burglar? He always comes home after dark and never talks about his work!" (15)

Bowlby explored the ideas of Karl Marx and pointed out the dangers of any global theory of human behaviour. Bowlby had many left-wing friends and believed strongly in radical reform, especially in ideas on social issues. He worked for the Child Guidance Clinic and his first published paper was based on the cases he treated during this period. It was also an attack on the ideas of Frederic Truby King, whose book, Feeding and Care of Baby (1913), had become "the definitive baby manual in Britain". (16)

Truby King argued that child-rearing was about routine and discipline. "The formative months were for eating, sleeping and growing - not bonding." Childcare historian, Hugh Cunningham the author of Children and Childhood in Western Society Since 1500 (2005) says mothers were inclined to trust the experts of the era. "A significant number of people simply thought science was telling them and therefore it was the right thing to do." (17)

Bowlby strongly believed that Truby King's parenting ideas were harmful. "If it became a tradition that small children were never subjected to complete or prolonged separation from their parents in the same way that regular sleep and orange juice have become nursery traditions, I believe that many cases of neurotic character development would be avoided." (18)

On the outbreak of the Second World War Bowlby, aged thirty-three, volunteered to join the British armed forces. However, his application was rejected and he was appointed as a member of a group of Army psychiatrists whose main job was, by using statistical and psychotherapeutic methods, to put officer selection on a scientific footing. Eventually, he became a member of the Research and Training Unit based in Hampstead. (19)

Bowlby continued to carry out his own research. This included a study of 44 delinquent children who had a history of stealing. Bowlby categorized the delinquent children into six different character types which included: normal, depressed, circular, hyperthymic, affectionless, and schizoid. One of Bowlby's main findings through his research with these children was that 17 out of the 44 thieves experienced early and prolonged separation (six months or more) from their primary caregiver before the age of five. "The essential factor which all these separations have in common is that, during the early development of his object relationships, the child is suddenly removed and placed with strangers. He is snatched away from the people and places which are familiar and whom he loves and placed with people and in surroundings which are unknown and alarming." (20)

Having established that separation from the mother or mother-substitute in early childhood often had dire results, Bowlby set about investigating the way in which human beings establish ties of attachment with one another and what consequences follow when these ties are severed. Bowlby was acutely aware of the necessity of evidence to support his theories. He studied ethnology and he became acquainted with and indebted to Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen and Robert Hinde. He was especially influenced by Lorenz's imprinting theory. "His studies of attachment in other species led him to conclude that the biological roots of attachment originated in the need to protect the young from predators." (21)

John Bowlby was elected as President of the British Psychoanalytic Society. During the war there was a strong feeling that the British people should be rewarded for their sacrifice and resolution. To encourage the British people to continue their fight against the axis powers, the government promised reforms that would create a more equal society. The British government asked Sir William Beveridge to write a report on the best ways of helping people on low incomes. The Beveridge Report proposed that all people of working age should pay a weekly contribution. In return, benefits would be paid to people who were sick, unemployed, retired or widowed. Beveridge argued that this system would provide a minimum standard of living "below which no one should be allowed to fall". (22)

The government refused to fully accept the report but the Labour Party argued that if they won the next election they would introduce a National Health Service. Many members of the medical profession were reluctant to support the proposed NHS. The British Medical Association fearing in particular the loss of private practice in a universal service opposed the plans and talked about their profession being nationalised. (23)

This was also the view of Psychoanalytic Society and this brought Bowlby in conflict with his members. He advocated giving full support to Clement Attlee and his government that took power following the 1945 General Election: "We find ourselves in a rapidly changing world and yet, as a Society, we have done nothing, I repeat nothing, to meet these changes, to influence them or to adapt to them. That is not the reaction of a living organism but a moribund one. If our Society died of inertia it would only have met the fate it had invited." (24)

John and Ursula Bowlby set up home with Evan Durbin and his wife, in York Terrace. Durbin was elected as Labour MP for Edmonton in 1945. He was immediately appointed as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Hugh Dalton, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. (25)

In September, 1945, Bowlby was asked to contribute to a conference organized by the Fabian Society entitled "The Psychological and Sociological Problems of Modern Socialism". Several leading left-wing intellectuals, including Bowlby, Durbin, G. D. H. Cole, Richard Tawney, Michael Young and Frank Pakenham were invited to speak. The main purpose was to explore how society at large might become "socialist". (26)

Bowlby argued: "In our enthusiasm for achieving long-sought social aims, we should not overlook the private concerns of the masses, their predilections in sport or entertainments, their desire to have a home or garden of their own in which they can do what they like and which they do not frequently have to move, their preference in seaside resorts or Sunday newspapers." Given the undeniable fact of these "private goals", each of which had not only "the attraction of being immediately and simply achieved" but also "the sanction of tradition behind them".

Bowlby asked how it would be possible to ensure "the understanding and acceptance of the need for the inevitable controls required for the attainment of group goals such as, for instance, full employment, a maximising of production by reorganisation and increase of machinery, or a maximising of personal efficiency through longer and more ardous education and other social measures". His solution was a mixture of democracy and psychology: "The hope for the future lies in a far more profound understanding of the nature of the emotional forces involved and the development of scientific social techniques for modifying them." (27)

Bowlby appears to have been right as a public opinion poll in December 1947 found that 42 per cent thought the Labour government had so far been "too socialistic", 30 per cent "about right", and a mere 15 per cent "not socialist enough". Durbin wrote that the "British people are not socialist" and "the political future is not hopeful." (28)

Evan Durbin was on holiday in Bude, with his wife and three children, Jocelyn (11), Elizabeth (10) and Geoffrey (2). On 3rd September, 1948, the family were on the beach at Crackington Haven when Jocelyn got into difficulties in the sea. Durbin raced in and saved his daughter from drowning. He then returned and brought out another young girl, Tessa Alger. A doctor on the beach reported that after "placing the child safely on a rock" he returned to save other children in difficulties. Unfortunately, he was caught in a strong current and swept out to sea. (29) Jeremy Holmes claimed that "Durbin's death was the most overwhelming loss of John's life, and certainly influenced his interest in the themes of grief and loss which were to figure so centrally in his work." (30)

Bowlby became increasingly convinced that the relationship between the mother and child was extremely important in the moral development of the child: "Whether a person grows up with a strong capacity to make good personal relations - to be good - or whether he grows up with a very indifferent capacity for this depends very greatly on something which has never traditionally been regarded as part of ethics - namely on what his relation to his mother was in early life." (31)

He believed that the mother should be willing to turn it into a full-time job: "The provision of constant attention night and day, seven days a week, 365 days in the year, is possible only for a woman who derives profound satisfaction from seeing her child grow from babyhood, through the many phases of childhood, to become an independent man or woman, and knows that it is her care which has made this possible." Bowlby called on the government to change its policy on the way it helped families: "There are today governments prepared to spend up to £10 per week on the residential care of infants who would tremble to give half this sum to a widow, an unmarried mother, or a grandmother to help her care for her baby at home.... Nothing is more characteristic of both the public and voluntary attitude towards the problem than a willingness to spend large sums of money looking after children away from their homes, combined with a haggling stinginess in giving aid to the home itself." (32)

John Bowlby was also critical of organisations that had authoritarian structures. "Any organisation, industrial, commercial, national, religious or academic, organised on authoritarian lines must therefore be regarded as inimical to the promotion of good personal relations, of goodness. And that goes for our daily lives... in so far as we are authoritarian in our attitude towards others we are promoting bad personal relations and evil." (33)

In Psychology and Democracy (January, 1946), discuses the central dilemma of political science: "how to reconcile the need for social co-operation with the equally pressing but to some extent incompatible need for individual freedom". Bowlby recognised that capitalism made demands on individuals that might be in some cases harmful to the family. For example, after the war, there was a shortage of labour and married women were being encouraged to go out to work. He believed that governments needed to play the role of a good parent who encouraged their children to renounce selfish individual pleasures in order to make the family stronger. (34)

John Bowlby became a strong opponent of nuclear weapons: "All our previous experience points inescapably to the conclusion that neither moral exhortation nor fear of punishment will succeed in controlling the use of this weapon. Persons bent on suicide and nations bent on war, even suicidal war, are deterred by neither. The hope for the future lies in a far more profound understanding of the nature of the emotional forces involved and the development of scientific social techniques for modifying them." (35)

Child Care and the Growth of Love

In 1950 Bowlby was invited by the World Health Organization to advise on the mental health of homeless children. This led to the publication of the report, Maternal Care and Mental Health (1951). An expanded version of the report, Child Care and the Growth of Love, was published in 1953. In the book Bowlby explained what later became known as attachment theory. "Having established that separation from the mother or mother-substitute in early childhood often had dire results, Bowlby set about investigating the way in which human beings establish ties of attachment with one another, and what consequences follow when these ties are severed. His conclusions were invariably backed up by objective research and extensive references." (36)

This research enabled Bowlby to argue: "Largely as a result of this new knowledge, there is today a high level of agreement among child-guidance workers in Europe and America on certain central notions... For the moment it is sufficient to say that what is believed to be essential for mental health is that an infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother-substitute - one person who steadily 'mothers' him) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment. It is this complex, rich, and rewarding relationship with the mother in early years, varied in countless ways by relations with the father and the brothers and sisters, that child psychiatrists and many others now believe to underlie the development of character and of mental health." (37)

Bowlby pointed out that most of this information came from three main types of research: "(a) Studies, by direct observation, of the mental health and development of children in institutions, hospitals, and foster-homes, here called direct studies. (b) Studies which investigate the early histories of adolescents or adults who have developed psychological illnesses, here called retrospective studies. (c) Studies which follow up groups of children who have suffered deprivation in their early years with a view to determining their state of mental health, here called follow-up studies." (38)

Bowlby looked at evidence from all over the world in order to discover when a child stopped being damaged by a lack of maternal care: " All who have studied the matter would agree that between three and five years the risk is still serious, though much less so than earlier. During this period children no longer live exclusively in the present, and can consequently conceive dimly of a time when their mothers will return, which is impossible to most children younger than three... After the age of five the risk diminishes still further, through there can be no reasonable doubt that a fair proportion of children between the ages of five and seven or eight are unable to adjust satisfactorily to separations, especially if they are sudden and there has been no preparation." (39)

One of the most interesting studies that Bowlby included concerned a study in 1944 of ninety-seven Jewish refugee children in homes in Switzerland and 73 Swiss children of about the same age (eleven to seven years). All the children were asked to write an essay on "What I think, what I wish, and what I hope." A close examination of these essays revealled that for the refugees separation from their parents was evidently their most tragic experience. In contrast, few of the Swiss children mentioned their parents, who were evidently felt to be a natural and inevitable part of life. "Another great contrast was the refugee children's preoccupation with their suffering past, or with frenzied and grandiose ideas regarding the future. The Swiss children lived happily in the present, which for the refugee was either a vacuum or at best an unsatisfying transition. Deprived of all the things which had given life meaning, especially family and friends, they were possessed by a feeling of emptiness." In another study of refugee children discovered problems such "as bed-wetting and stealing, an inability to make relations and a consequent loss of ability to form ideals, an increase of aggression, and intolerance of frustration". (40)

Bowlby explained that the mother played an important role in the development of the child's moral code: "A further principle of the theory of learning is that an individual cannot learn a skill unless he has a friendly feeling towards his teacher, and is ready to identify himself with her. Now this positive attitude towards his mother is either lacking in a deprived child, or, if present, is mixed with keen resentment... This hostility is variously expressed. It may take the form of tempers and violence; in older children it may be expressed in words. All who have treated such children are familiar with the violence of their fantasies against the parents whom they feel to have deserted them. Such an attitude not only is incompatible with their desire for love and security, and results in acute conflicts, anxiety, and depression, but is clearly a hindrance to their future social learning. So far from idolizing their parents and wishing to become like them, one side of their nature hates them and wishes to avoid having anything to do with them. This is what brings about aggressively bad or delinquent behaviour; it may also lead ultimately to suicide which is an alternative to murdering his parents." (41)

Bowlby argued controversially that "young children thrive better in bad homes than in good institutions". He added that research suggested that one study that compared "the social adjustment in adult life of children who spent five years or more of their childhood in institutions with others who had spent the same years at home (in 80 per cent of cases in bad homes), the results were clearly in favour of the bad homes, those growing up to be socially incapable being only about half (18 per cent) of those from institutions (34.5 per cent)... That one-third of all those who had spent five years or more of their lives in institutions turned out to be 'socially incapable' in adult life is alarming, and no less alarming in the light of the reflection that one of the principal social functions of an adult is that of parenthood. For one may be reasonably sure that all the 34 per cent of these institution children who grew up to be 'socially incapable' adults were incapable as parents, and one may suspect that some at least of those who were not grossly incapable socially still left much to be desired as parents." (42)

Bowlby also dealt with the subject of adoption. He quotes from a report from a Children's officer in one local authority who stated "the central paradox of work for deprived children is that there are thousands of childless homes crying out for children and hundreds of homes filled with children in need of a family life." Bowlby insists that adoption should take place when the baby is only a few weeks old: "Nothing is more tragic than good adoptive parents who accept for adoption a child whose early experiences have led to disturbed personality development which nothing they can now do will put right. Very early adoption is thus clearly in the interests also of the adoptive parents. Moreover, the nearer to birth that they have had him the more will they feel the baby is their own and the easier will it be for them to identify themselves with his personality. Favourable relationships will then have the best chance to develop." (43)

Jeremy Holmes has argued that Child Care and the Growth of Love (1953) could be compared to the great nineteenth-century reports such as Elizabeth Fry, on sanitary conditions in prisons and Henry Mayhew, on the plight of the poor in London. "What marks Child Care and the Growth of Love out in the history of social reform is its emphasis on psychological as opposed to economic, nutritional, medical or housing difficulties as a root cause of social unhappiness." The book was a great success and sold over 450,000 copies in the English edition and was translated into ten different languages. (44)

Theory of Bereavement

Bowlby continued to work at the Tavistock Clinic and became a part-time member of the Medical Research Council. He also spent a lot of time writing his monumental trilogy, Attachment and Loss (1969), Separation: Anxiety & Anger (1973) and Loss: Sadness & Depression (1980). These were also best-sellers, with the first volume selling well over 100,000, the second 75,000 and the third 45,000. During this period he also published The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds (1979) that was a more popular exposition of his views. (45)

Bowlby's work was attacked by Anna Freud, who charged him with oversimplifying and misinterpreting Freudian theory. (46) However, Frank J. Sulloway, believed that Bowlby had successfully exposed "Freud's theory of psycho-sexual development". He concentrated upon the urgent need to "recast psychoanalysis in terms of modern evolutionary theory" or have it otherwise remain "permanently beyond the fringe of the scientific world." In place of what he termed the "jungle of psychoanalysis," he spent his life attempting to "construct a theory of human development that was wholly consistent with Darwinian theory". Bowlby "turned psychoanalytic theory on its head and demoted the libidinal theory of psychosexual development to the trash bin of failed scientific theories". (47)

Anthony Storr has argued that his studies of attachment had two main consequences. "First, his theories prompted a large body of research, ranging from studies of attachment between infants and their mothers to the effects of bereavement and the severance of social ties in adult life. Second, his demonstration that in the case of small children even brief periods of separation from their mothers can have serious emotional consequences led to important changes in hospital practice." (48)

John Bowlby
John Bowlby

During this period Bowlby developed a theory of bereavement that was essentially an extension of his theory of separation anxiety. He argued that the earliest response to a sudden bereavement may be an "apparent calmness based on emotional shutdown in which all feelings are suppressed, or reality denied, until the bereaved person is in a safe enough situation to let go a little." (49)

The bereaved person goes over in their mind every detail of the events leading up to the loss, hoping that some mistake may have been made and that past events can be made to turn out differently. Bowlby agrees with Sigmund Freud that the purpose of this mental searching was connected to the detachment process: "Mourning has a quite precise psychical task to perform: its function is to detach the survivor's memories and hopes from the dead." (50)

The basic dilemma of the bereaved is that the loss removes not only the loved one, but also the secure base to which the bereaved person would expect to turn in their hour of need. Therefore, the work of grief consists of rebuilding a secure inner base and that only new attachments can only be formed once old ones are relinquished. The bereaved will at first express "anger at everyone who might be responsible, not even sparing the dead person, can he gradually come to realise and accept that loss is in truth permanent and that his life must be shaped anew." (51)

The bereaved person will now look for a new person to replace the dead person. They will hope to need to find "like-minded companions of similar experience and stamina with whom to engage in mutually interesting and enjoyable activities." This will enable them to establish a secure internal base, "a sense that conflict can be negotiated and resolved, the avoidance of the necessity for primitive defences". However, the ability to do this will depend "on parental handling of the interplay between attachment and loss". (52)

Later Life

John Bowlby retired from the National Health Service and the Medical Research Council in 1972. He continued his work at the Tavistock Clinic and became the Memorial Professor of Psychoanalysis at University College in London. His lectures were published in his book, A Secure Base: Clinical Applications of Attachment Theory (1988). In this book "he explored the specifics of giving children a steady, loving home environment, and such issues as what constitutes adequate child care." (53)

In his book he warned that economic factors were having a detrimental impact on the family. "Man and woman power devoted to the production of material goods counts a plus in all our economic indices. Man and woman power devoted to the production of happy, healthy, and self-reliant children in their own homes does not count at all. We have created a topsy turvy world.... The society we live in is ... in evolutionary terms ... a very peculiar one. There is a great danger that we shall adopt mistaken norms. For, just as a society in which there is a chronic insufficiency of food may take a deplorably inadequate level of nutrition as its norm, so may a society in which parents of young children are left on their own with a chronic insufficiency of help take this state of affairs as its norm." (54)

Peter Marris has argued that Bowlby's attachment theory connects the political and the personal. "This is the ... link between sociological and psychological understanding: the experience of attachment, which so profoundly influences the growth of personality, is itself both the product of a culture, and a determinant of how that culture will be reproduced in the next generation - not only the culture of attachment itself, but all our ideas of order, authority, security, and control." (55)

Bowlby's reputation continued to grow and the psychiatrist, Anthony Storr, who knew him well, wrote that “His independence of mind made him unclassifiable and this has delayed the final recognition of his proper status. As a psychiatrist, Bowlby was a warm, caring human being with an unusual capacity for attentive listening. In spite of his eminence he was not in the least self-important. He always remained entirely approachable and ready to learn from others. He was an excellent teacher and greatly in demand as a lecturer. Posterity will recognize that John Bowlby’s contributions to psychiatric knowledge, and to the care of children, mark him as one of the three or four most important psychiatrists of the 20th century." (56)

In his seventies Bowlby began a biography of Charles Darwin. When Charles Darwin: A New Life (1990) was published it received excellent reviews. Frank J. Sulloway, wrote in The New York Review of Books: "Nothing could be more fitting, then, that John Bowlby should have turned his attention in the last decade of his life to a biography of Charles Darwin, the scientist whom he revered above all others. The choice of subject was not dictated merely by admiration... Bowlby's book is perhaps an ideal introduction to Darwin's life and work for the non-specialist. Moreover, even though as a Darwin scholar I was familiar with most of the manuscript sources used by Bowlby, I found myself appreciating them in a new setting. It was like having stumbled upon previously isolated phrases from a musical score, only to suddenly see them combined by a Mozart into a harmonious whole." (57)

Primary Sources

(1) Richard Bowlby, The Secondary Attachment (24th December, 2008)

My father was the fourth child, and he had a nursemaid called Minnie who had day-to-day responsibility for him. The children rarely saw their father except on Sundays and holidays and only saw their mother for one hour each day between 5 and 6 p.m., and even then, the children went to see her all together so there wasn't exactly individual quality time. (Effectively, the children had 23 hours a day of good quality, non-parental care.)

My father grew to love Minnie, and Minnie once told my father's sister, Evelyn, that John was her favourite. My father must have become attached to Minnie, and I have little doubt that Minnie was his surrogate primary attachment figure in preference to his own mother, but when he was four years old, Minnie left the family. He lost his "mother figure" and his primary attachment bond was broken.

(2) John Bowlby, The Sociological Review (Volume 39: 1947)

All our previous experience points inescapably to the conclusion that neither moral exhortation nor fear of punishment will succeed in controlling the use of this weapon. Persons bent on suicide and nations bent on war, even suicidal war, are deterred by neither. The hope for the future lies in a far more profound understanding of the nature of the emotional forces involved and the development of scientific social techniques for modifying them.

(3) John Bowlby, A Secure Base: Clinical Applications of Attachment Theory (1988)

Man and woman power devoted to the production of material goods counts a plus in all our economic indices. Man and woman power devoted to the production of happy, healthy, and self-reliant children in their own homes does not count at all. We have created a topsy turvy world.... The society we live in is ... in evolutionary terms ... a very peculiar one. There is a great danger that we shall adopt mistaken norms. For, just as a society in which there is a chronic insufficiency of food may take a deplorably inadequate level of nutrition as its norm, so may a society in which parents of young children are left on their own with a chronic insufficiency of help take this state of affairs as its norm.

(4) Daniel Goleman, New York Times (14th September, 1990)

One of the most influential forces in child psychiatry and psychology, Dr. Bowlby challenged basic tenets of psychoanalysis and pioneered methods of investigating the emotional life of children. His central focus was on what has come to be called ''attachment theory'' and the emotional impact on the child when the maternal bond is disrupted.

In arguing the case for the crucial nature of a warm, intimate and continuous relationship between mother and infant, Dr. Bowlby prompted public policy that a ''bad'' home is better for a child than a ''good'' institution. His work also inadvertently bred guilt in many working mothers, who misconstrued his message. Dr. Bowlby felt a mother's absence during the day was not a problem if there was satisfactory care in her absence.

In his major work, a three-volume exploration of the bond between the mother and child, Dr. Bowlby argued that the origins of many emotional problems in later life were a result of children's being separated as toddlers from their mothers, with no adequate substitute.

The problems such separation could lead to, he said, included depression, ''anxious attachment'' or clinginess in relationships, chronic delinquency, and pathological mourning.

''John Bowlby was a giant,'' said Dr. Albert Solnit, former director of the Child Studies Center at the Yale University Medical School. ''He was one of the most fertile, incisive thinkers about children of our century.''

''His influence is enormous and growing,'' said Elsa First, a psychoanalyst at New York University. ''Attachment theory has become more and more central over the last 10 years in psychological theory and in psychotherapy.''

Edward John Mostyn Bowlby was born Feb. 26, 1907, the son of a surgeon. He grew up in a time when many children lived with a succession of nannies, often seeing their own parents only at tea time, until they reached the age when they were sent away to boarding school.

Dr. Bowlby attended Dartmouth Royal Naval College and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he majored in natural sciences and psychology. His medical training was at University College Medical School in London. During World War II, he served in the British army as a psychiatrist.

For most of his career, from 1946 on, Dr. Bowlby was on the staff at the Tavistock Clinic and the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. He was director of the department of child psychiatry there until 1968, and he remained as a senior research fellow and teacher after retiring in 1972. While in medical school, at the age of 22, he went into psychoanalysis with Joan Riviere, a colleague of the noted psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, who later became his supervisor for a year.

His first work in psychiatry, at the Maudsley Hospital in London, was with adults. But in the 1930's he began to focus on children, and he turned to the theme that was to dominate his life's work, the lasting emotional legacy of childhood separations and losses.

In 1950, Dr. Bowlby became a consultant to the World Health Organization, studying children who had been orphaned, institutionalized or otherwise separated from their parents. The resulting 1951 book, ''Maternal Child Care and Child Health,'' condemned the prevailing practice of hospitals and other children's institutions in depriving children there of contact with a consistent figure who could serve as a mother substitute. The failure to provide a mothering figure, he said, would leave the chlidren unable to love.

A popular version of research he did for the World Health Organization, the book, published in 1953 as ''Child Care and the Growth of Love,'' became a best seller. But Dr. Bowlby's most influential work was the the trilogy ''Attachment and Loss.'' The first volume, ''Attachment,'' was published in 1969; the second, ''Separation,'' was published in 1973, and the third, ''Loss,'' in 1980.

A re-thinking of psychoanalytic theory, ''Attachment and Loss'' saw the bond between mother and child as instinctive, like the urge to mate in adulthood. And Dr. Bowlby saw emotional problems in later life as arising from actual childhood events, like being deprived of mothering, rather than from unconscious fantasies.

In another radical break with the prevailing psychoanalytic methods and theories of his day, Dr. Bowlby turned to the study of animal behavior and to theories about how information flows between people in formulating his ideas about the mother-infant bond. Instead of relying on adult memories to reconstruct the major events of childhood, Dr. Bowlby's studies made direct observations of mothers and children.

His first volume was attacked by many leading psychoanalysts at the time, including the analyst Anna Freud, who charged him with oversimplifying and misinterpreting Freudian theory. But in recent years data supporting Dr. Bowlby's theories, and changing theories in psychoanalysis, have brought increasing importance to his work.

Productive to the end, Dr. Bowlby published ''A Secure Base,'' in 1988, published in the United States by Basic Books,) in which he explored the specifics of giving children a steady, loving home environment, and such issues as what constitutes adequate child care. ''Charles Darwin: A New Biography,'' published this year in Britain, argues that Darwin's repeated illnesses resulted from losses in childhood.

Dr. Bowlby, who was buried on the Isle of Skye, is survived by two sons, Robert and Richard, who live in London, and two daughters, Pia Duran of London, and Mary Gatling, who lives in Salisbury Wiltshire, and seven grandchildren.

(5) Anthony Storr, Munks Roll: Volume IX (1991)

John Bowlby was the second son of Major General Sir Anthony Bowlby, 1st Baronet, who was surgeon to King Edward VII s household, honorary surgeon-in-ordinary to King George V, and president of the Royal College of Surgeons from 1920-23. His mother, Maria Bridget née Mostyn, was the daughter of a Church of England clergyman. His early education was at Abberley Hall preparatory school and, as he was destined for a naval career, the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. But he changed his mind, decided to study medicine and went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, and University College Hospital, London. On qualification in medicine he specialized in psychiatry, child psychiatry and psychoanalysis. From 1933-35 he was a clinical assistant at the Maudsley Hospital. In 1936 he joined the staff of the London Child Guidance Clinic where he stayed until 1940. During the second world war he served as a consultant psychiatrist in the RAMC, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1946 he joined the staff of the Tavistock Clinic and remained there until his retirement in 1972.

He was chairman of the department of children and parents at the Tavistock Clinic from 1946-68, and president of the International Association of Child Psychiatrists and Allied Professions from 1962-66. From 1963-72 he was a member of the external scientific staff of the Medical Research Council, and from 1950 onwards was consultant in mental health to the World Health Organization. He carried out research at the National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, USA, from 1958-63 and was visiting professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, California, in 1968.

In 1946 he published a study of delinquent children who had been referred to the London Child Guidance Clinic, Forty-four juvenile thieves: their characters and home life, London, Bailière, Tindall & Cox. But the work which really established his reputation began with an invitation from the World Health Organisation in 1950, to advise on the mental health of homeless children. This led to the publication in 1951 of Maternal care and mental health, based on his WHO report, which was later abridged and edited by Margery Fry as Child care and the growth of love; London, Baltimore USA, Penguin Books, 1953. He then published Attachment, New York, Basic Books, cl969, which was the first volume of his massive trilogy Attachment, Separation and Loss the second volume being Separation: anxiety and anger, 1973. The trilogy was completed in 1980 by the publication of Loss: sadness and depression. Briefer, more popular expositions of Bowlby’s views appeared in The making and breaking of affectional bonds, London, Tavistock Publications, 1979, followed by A secure base, in 1988.

Bowlby was the originator of what is now known as ‘attachment theory’. Having established that separation from the mother or mother-substitute in early childhood often had dire results, Bowlby set about investigating the way in which human beings establish ties of attachment with one another and what consequences follow when these ties are severed. Unlike most psychoanalysts, Bowlby was acutely aware of the necessity of evidence to support his theories. His conclusions were always backed up by objective research and extensive references. His interest led him to study ethnology and he became acquainted with and indebted to Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen and Robert Hinde. His studies of attachment in other species led him to conclude that the biological roots of attachment originated in the need to protect the young from predators.

His interest in biological theory and in the effects of bereavement led to his last book, a biography of Darwin; Charles Darwin: a biography, London, Hutchinson, 1990, which related the scientist’s chronic ill health and recurrent anxiety and depression to the early death of his mother. This book was published only a few weeks before Bowlby’s death. His studies of attachment had two main consequences. First, his theories prompted a large body of research, ranging from studies of attachment between infants and their mothers to the effects of bereavement and the severance of social ties in adult life. Second, his demonstration that in the case of small children even brief periods of separation from their mothers can have serious emotional consequences led to important changes in hospital practice.

It is now taken for granted that parents should be allowed free access to their sick children in hospital and vice versa, but before Bowlby’s work this was by no means common practice. Bowlby reinforced his case that such separations were traumatic by making a series of films with James Robertson, of which the most famous is A two-year old goes to hospital. No one who saw the misery experienced by the child in this film could remain unmoved. Bowlby’s work has saved hundreds of small children from unnecessary emotional distress.

John Bowlby received his training as a psychoanalyst from Joan Rivière, and was supervised by Melanie Klein. It is a tribute to his independence to point out that neither of these two formidable ladies appears to have had the slightest effect on his subsequent development. Whereas the majority of psychoanalysts, especially those belonging to the Kleinian persuasion, emphasize the importance of the patient’s inner world or fantasy as providing the origin of neurotic symptoms, Bowlby remained firmly convinced that traumatic events in real life were more significant; not only separation and loss but also parental threats of abandonment and other cruelties. At one time psychoanalysis was under such heavy attack from biologically minded psychiatrists that it was in danger of total oblivion.

Bowlby, by continuing to call himself a psychoanalyst, and by conscientiously supporting his conclusions with objective research, demonstrated that at least some aspects of psychoanalytic theory could attain scientific respectability. This admirable and unusually detached stance, however, may have caused his achievements to have been underestimated during his lifetime. Biologically minded psychiatrists tend to be suspicious of anyone calling himself a psychoanalyst, while the psychoanalytic establishment regarded Bowlby as something of a renegade.

His independence of mind made him unclassifiable and this has delayed the final recognition of his proper status. As a psychiatrist, Bowlby was a warm, caring human being with an unusual capacity for attentive listening. In spite of his eminence he was not in the least self-important. He always remained entirely approachable and ready to learn from others. He was an excellent teacher and greatly in demand as a lecturer. Posterity will recognize that John Bowlby’s contributions to psychiatric knowledge, and to the care of children, mark him as one of the three or four most important psychiatrists of the 20th century.

He married Ursula Longstaff in 1938. They had two daughters and two sons. He was a committed family man, fond of outdoor pursuits including walking, shooting and natural history. Most holidays were spent on the Isle of Skye, and it was there that he died.

(6) Frank J. Sulloway, The New York Review of Books (10th October, 1991)

John Bowlby's Charles Darwin: A New Life offers us a tantalizing glimpse of such an alternative and potentially revolutionary biographical approach, and it does so in two fundamental ways. Bowlby, who died in 1990 after this biography was completed, was a distinguished British psychologist. His theory of human development, based on the "attachments" that people form in early life, particularly to parents, was inspired by Lorenz's work on imprinting in ethnology, and involved an explicit repudiation of Freud's theory of psycho-sexual development Bowlby rejected Freud's theories because of their fundamentally non-Darwinian tendencies. Although he was originally trained as a psychoanalyst in the 1930s, Bowlby recognized early in his career that much of psycho-analysis was based on outmoded nineteenth-century biological assumptions, such as the inheritance of acquired characteristics (Lamarckian theory) and the biogenetic law (the notion that the child is destined to recapitulate the adult stages and experiences of our ancestors). As Stephen Jay Gould has shown in Ontogeny and Phylogeny, Lamarck's faulty theory of inheritance was a necessary mechanism for the functioning of the biogenetic law, allowing it to compress (through a sort of inherited practice) all of the ancestors' adult stages into the much briefer recapitulation of ontogeny.

In Bowlby's monumental life's achievement, his three-volume series Attachment and Loss, he concentrated upon the urgent need to "recast psychoanalysis in terms of modern evolutionary theory" or have it otherwise remain "permanently beyond the fringe of the scientific world." In place of what he termed the "jungle of psychoanalysis," he spent his life attempting to construct a theory of human development that was wholly consistent with Darwinian theory. From a Darwinian perspective, Bowlby argued, the behavior of children who become attached to their parents and others could be seen as eminently normal and adaptive, and primary, rather than as neurotic or "dependent," and secondarily motivated by other instinctual considerations such as feeding at the breast. In taking this theoretical step, he turned psychoanalytic theory on its head and demoted the libidinal theory of psychosexual development to the trash bin of failed scientific theories.

In rejecting much of psychoanalytic theory, John Bowlby became a Darwinian in a second and equally important way. In place of the speculative inferences drawn from analysis of adult memories, he substituted direct observation of children. In his work on the various psychological disorders deriving from disturbed attachment relationships, he also introduced controlled epidemiological methods, which involved statistical comparisons of thousands of people who did, or did not, lose parents at an early age. Although Bowlby's novel techniques were severely criticized by many psychoanalysts, including Anna Freud, his research findings - unlike those of psychoanalysis - have become widely accepted by academic psychologists and have spawned an entire sub-discipline within current developmental psychology.

Nothing could be more fitting, then, that John Bowlby should have turned his attention in the last decade of his life to a biography of Charles Darwin, the scientist whom he revered above all others. The choice of subject was not dictated merely by admiration. Thirty years before, Bowlby had become interested in Darwin's life after learning from his Autobiography that he had lost his mother at the age of eight and that he had subsequently developed a lifelong affliction of seemingly psychosomatic origins. Intrigued, Bowlby began to investigate the subject, and for nearly three decades he followed the developing literature on the nature of Darwin's puzzling illness. The more he studied the subject, the more he concluded that Darwin's life and scientific work were closely interwoven with his illness, and so he was drawn into a full-fledged biography of the man, albeit "a biography with a special slant and inevitable limitations."

In spite of Bowlby's own caveat about the limitations of his new book, the result is a remarkably sensitive and revealing portrait of Darwin by a self-trained admirer who come to know more about the man than many Darwin scholars do. Some of these scholars will perhaps not find this biography of particular value, but that may well reflect their professional myopia. As Roy Porter has commented about the profession of the history of science: "Academic history of science has increasingly, in the name of scientific and professional standards, disparaged the personal focus. Its goals have become to study problems not people, issues not individuals, ideologies not inspiration."[4] Darwin scholars, then, have tended to find little place for Darwin as a human being in their accounts of his life. He has remained a kind of mild-mannered thinking machine, a superman of science. Bowlby's Darwin helps to redress this imbalance and is perhaps an ideal introduction to Darwin's life and work for the non specialist. Moreover, even though as a Darwin scholar I was familiar with most of the manuscript sources used by Bowlby, I found myself appreciating them in a new setting. It was like having stumbled upon previously isolated phrases from a musical score, only to suddenly see them combined by a Mozart into a harmonious whole.

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Industrial Revolution

First World War

Russian Revolution

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References

(1) Jeremy Holmes, John Bowlby and Attachment Theory (1993) page 14

(2) Alex Campbell, BBC News (4th May, 2013)

(3) Hilary Stace, Eugenics in New Zealand (September, 1997)

(4) Suzan Van Dijken, John Bowlby: His Early Life: A Biographical Journey into the Roots of Attachment Theory (1998) page 20

(5) Richard Bowlby, The Secondary Attachment (24th December, 2008)

(6) Jeremy Holmes, John Bowlby and Attachment Theory (1993) page 17

(7) Ian R. Whitehead, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(8) John Bowlby, Bulletin of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (January, 1981)

(9) Jeremy Holmes, John Bowlby and Attachment Theory (1993) pages 19-20

(10) Ian Dishart Suttie, Origins of Love and Hate (1935)

(11) David Mann, Love and Hate: Psychoanalytic Perspectives (2002) page 111

(12) John Bowlby, Origins of Love and Hate (1988) page xvii

(13) John Bowlby and Evan Durbin, Personal Aggressiveness and War (1938) page 42

(14) Ian R. Whitehead, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(15) Jeremy Holmes, John Bowlby and Attachment Theory (1993) page 25

(16) Natasha Pearlman, The Daily Mail (20th September, 2007)

(17) Alex Campbell, BBC News (4th May, 2013)

(18) John Bowlby, International Journal of Psychoanalysis (1940)

(19) Jeremy Holmes, John Bowlby and Attachment Theory (1993) page 23

(20) John Bowlby, Forty-four juvenile thieves, their characters and home life (1944)

(21) Anthony Storr, John Bowlby, Munks Roll: Volume IX (1991)

(22) A. J. P. Taylor, English History: 1914-1945 (1965) page 688

(23) John Campbell, Nye Bevan and the Mirage of British Socialism (1987) page 166

(24) Pearl King and Riccardo Steiner, The Freud-Klein Controversies 1941-45 (1992) page 489

(25) Catherine Ellis, Evan Durbin: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(26) David Kynaston, Austerity Britain: 1945-51 (2007) page 129

(27) John Bowlby, Fabian Society Conference (15th September, 1945)

(28) David Kynaston, Austerity Britain: 1945-51 (2007) page 235

(29) The Birmingham Daily Gazette (4th September, 1948)

(30) Jeremy Holmes, John Bowlby and Attachment Theory (1993) page 23

(31) John Bowlby, The Sociological Review (Volume 39: 1947) page 39

(32) John Bowlby, The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child (1952)

(33) John Bowlby, The Sociological Review (Volume 39: 1947) page 40

(34) John Bowlby, Psychology and Democracy (January, 1946)

(35) John Bowlby, The Sociological Review (Volume 39: 1947) page 39

(36) John Bowlby, Psychology and Democracy (January, 1946)

(37) John Bowlby, Child Care and the Growth of Love (1953) page 13

(38) John Bowlby, Child Care and the Growth of Love (1953) page 21

(39) John Bowlby, Child Care and the Growth of Love (1953) page 33

(40) John Bowlby, Child Care and the Growth of Love (1953) page 51

(41) John Bowlby, Child Care and the Growth of Love (1953) page 65

(42) John Bowlby, Child Care and the Growth of Love (1953) page 79

(43) John Bowlby, Child Care and the Growth of Love (1953) page 124

(44) Jeremy Holmes, John Bowlby and Attachment Theory (1993) pages 27 and 38

(45) Ian R. Whitehead, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(46) Daniel Goleman, New York Times (14th September, 1990)

(47) Frank J. Sulloway, The New York Review of Books (10th October, 1991)

(48) Anthony Storr, John Bowlby, Munks Roll: Volume IX (1991)

(49) Jeremy Holmes, John Bowlby and Attachment Theory (1993) page 90

(50) Sigmund Freud, Mourning and Melancholia (1917)

(51) John Bowlby, Attachment and Loss: Retrospect and Prospect (1982)

(52) Jeremy Holmes, John Bowlby and Attachment Theory (1993) pages 96-97

(53) Daniel Goleman, New York Times (14th September, 1990)

(54) John Bowlby, A Secure Base: Clinical Applications of Attachment Theory (1988) page 2

(55) Peter Marris, The Social Construction of Uncertainty (1991)

(56) Anthony Storr, John Bowlby, Munks Roll: Volume IX (1991)

(57) Frank J. Sulloway, The New York Review of Books (10th October, 1991)

John Simkin